Monday, June 01, 2009

The Madonna Effect

I watched Guy Ritchie's 2008 film RocknRolla recently. I was struck by how much the film was a return to form for Ritchie who wowed me with 1998's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Many critics (and friends of mine) dismissed the earlier Lock, Stock as a Tarantino ripoff but let me defend it in this succinct fashion:
1. There were approximately 40 Tarantino ripoffs released between 1995 and 1999. One of them - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels - was great. Another - Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead - was good. The other 38 were forgettable.

2. Watch Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and try to take your eyes off of it for even a moment. Can't be done.

3. Perfect ending.

Ritchie's 2000 follow-up, Snatch, was not quite as good. Okay, it wasn't even close in terms of innovation, quality, writing, screenplay, etc. Then came Swept Away (2002) and Revolver (2005), two forgettable movies (and yeah I admit to not having seen either one.) But then RocknRolla came out and Ritchie was back.

Sure, the stylized episodic examinations of British gangster life that he perfected with Lock, Stock and ruined with Snatch are still there. And yes he's rehashed the multiple-gangs-of-criminals-going-after-the-same-prize theme and the troubled father-son relationship B-story. But there was enough unexpected stuff and a sufficient amount of new touches (the amazing Thandie Newton, the most perfect use of a Clash song ever, the always perfect Idris Elba, and a hilarious/brilliant opening scene) that made RocknRolla seem completely fresh.

So what the hell happened between 1998 and 2008 to render Ritchie's brilliance impotent? Madonna, that's what happened.

There have been other off-handed, flippant articles/blog posts about Madonna's creativity-crushing effect on her mates. But I'm taking a different approach. I'm a researcher. I have a Ph.D. in statistics. I need empirical proof. So here goes

(note: all beginnings/ends of relationships with Madonna based on the indisputable Wikipedia which also informed me that Guy and I share the same birthday; AND all ratings are based on MY subjective opinions):

Exhibit A: Sean Penn (began dating Madonna in 1985; split up in 1989)

Before Madonna: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, quality rating (scale of 0 to 100): 82; The Falcon and the Snowman: 90
During Madonna: At Close Range: 61; Shanghai Surprise: 2; Colors: 0
After Madonna: Casualties of War; Carlito's Way; Dead Man Walking; Mystic River, Milk: all in the 70-90 range, with only I Am Sam to be embarrassed by.

Exhibit B: Sandra Bernhard (was considered to be a close "friend" of Madonna between 1988 and 1991)

Before Madonna: Richard Pryor Show: 72; King of Comedy: 93
During Madonna: Truth or Dare: 17; Hudson Hawk: 24; Without You, I'm Nothing: 87 (admittedly Without You, I'm Nothing is awesome but some "rules" have exceptions; besides, I think most of the material was written pre-Madonna)
Post-Madonna: INSIDE MONKEY ZETTERLAND: 96; Her guest work on Roseanne: 73; Her stage show I'm Still Here, Damn It: 85

Exhibit C: Guy Ritchie (began dating Madonna in 1998; split up in 2007 or early 2008)

Before Madonna: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: 94
During Madonna: Snatch: 27; Swept Away: 6; Revolver: 29
After Madonna: RocknRolla: 87

Exhibit D: Alex Rodriguez ("dated" Madonna during the 2008 baseball season)

Before Madonna: Career slugging percentage prior to 2008: .579
During Madonna: Slugging percentage during the 2008 season: .574
After Madonna: Slugging eprcentage during the 2009 season: .584
(disclaimer: Rodriguez's stats may be colored by his use of performance enhancing drugs)

I could put up charts and graphs but that would be overkill and besides, my lunch break is almost over. Anyway, the numbers don't lie. Before Madonna: UP. During Madonna: DOWN; After Madonna; UP again.

Interestingly, Madonna's own career actually shows improvement during these relationships. Arguably, she's released four really good songs in her career and they ALL have been come out during the first year of the aforementioned relationships:

1986: La Isla Bonita
1988: Like a Prayer
1998: Ray of Light
2008: 4 Minutes

(disclaimer: I've never actually heard 4 Minutes (featuring Justin Timberlake). I just needed something from 2008 to prove my point. Also, I'm well aware that the awesome Like a Virgin doesn't figure in my theory. Oh well. What can I do? Not every theory is airtight. For example, Catholicism is partially based on the notion that a WAFER holds mystical powers.)

I leave you with a memorable scene from RockNRolla, featuring a bad-ass Tom Wilkinson, an enigmatic Toby Kebbell, and a kid:

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